A complicated legacy

My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer when my dad was 16 years old. I am named for her as well as looking like her and even sounding like her. Though we never met, I have always felt connected to her. While in my 20s, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and through his treatment discovered he was BRCA positive. It all started to make sense. The many women in his family who had breast cancer. His eldest brother who had male breast cancer. A pattern was emerging in our family.

My father urged my sister and I to get tested. She was tested straight away and was negative. Much to the dismay of my family, I declined to be tested because I was already able to get the screening by virtue of my father’s status. What would I do with this information at this stage anyways? I was young, single, childless. Most importantly, I already knew what the result would be. I am named for her. I look like her. I have her voice. I have her blood running through my veins. Her very DNA is encoded into my own.

Ultimately, I was tested once we had our 3 beautiful children. As predicted, I am BRCA+. 1 year after, ovaries come out. 4 years after that, a breast cancer diagnosis while on the wait list for a preventative double mastectomy. Thank G-d, due to screening mammography and MRIs, it was caught early, and I was able to have the double mastectomy and reconstruction right away with no follow-up treatment required.

It has been 6 years since then and now one would think that I am carefree with no need to worry about breast and ovarian cancer again. Unfortunately, I now think about my children. My children who now have a 50% chance of carrying the gene. My children, who will need to make some hard decisions when they are older. My children, who are already asking some tough questions with no easy answers. My son, who is at risk for prostate and breast cancers. My daughters, who are at an even greater risk for breast and ovarian cancers. It will be a long road.

Ginaya Peters, 46, breast cancer survivor, Vancouver, BC